Apple is the new China

The recent war between Apple and Adobe and the justifications made in Apple’s defense (ignore the predatory behavior in the tech space because it is too big a market to ignore) bring to mind the attitude that most large American corporations have regarding China (ignore the civil rights abuses because it is too big a market to ignore).

The closed environment

For years now, I have worried about Apple’s tendency to prefer closed environments to open ones when it came first to its iPod line of products, then its iPhone line, and now it’s iPad one. Each of the product are terrific consumption tools but that’s where they stop and my worry stems from the trend they create, one where Apple is creating an increasingly closed environment, more in line with the type of thinking that permeates the consumer electronics, movie, and telephone industry than the one that exists in the computer world. It seems that whenever Apple enters a new industry, it may have a small impact on that industry but the industry itself has a big impact on Apple.

Of course, one could see this as a natural evolution as the counter-culture 1970s Steve Jobs was booted out of Apple and, after a long exile, came back as Steve Jobs, founder of Pixar and eventually morphed into Steve Jobs, largest Disney shareholder. The net result is that the Apple leader has now learned to turn his company into the new Disney, bringing safe products to the masses in a highly sterilized environment that may not appeal to all.

And a Disneyworld version of computing is OK for most people. Most people love the magic kingdom but, for a portion of the population, Disneyworld is a place you visit, not one you live in. And that’s where conflict arises.

For people who have lived in the mostly free-for-all environment of the computing industry (and its cousin, the anything-goes world of the Internet), the idea of a Disneyified world is as close as you will get to their concept of hell. And those people tend to be the ones that develop applications.

Two Impulses

So developers now find themselves conflicted between two impulses:

  • On one hand, Apple is created this Disney-like environment that increases the level of control Apple asserts in many spaces including the music, video, and mobile space.
  • On the other hand, this type of environment attracts large crowds who really enjoy the safer experience. As an added bonus, the space actually looks very clean and the interface components are very slick.

The market size issue is one that larger technology companies are starting to grapple with in another arena: China. For example, Google has been trying to figure out the right balance between insisting that China stop censoring internet content and protecting its chances at getting into that market. Many of Google’s competitors, in the meantime, stood on the sideline, arguing that China is too large a market to ignore and that corporations should not get involved into politics, a position that is often at odds with their own actions in the US.

But back to Apple.

Apple vs. Adobe

For those who have not been following what’s happening between Apple and Adobe, here’s what’s happening. Adobe owns Flash, a product that allows for video or more interactive type of content  on the web. Thanks to the Flash technology, distributing video on the internet became a reality because the Flash player ran on most browsers and, thanks to strong marketing by Macromedia (the company that was managing Flash at the time and was acquired by Adobe), the Flash player became ubiquitous on computers.

When Apple first released the iPhone, it presented it as a different type of phone because it offered a browser that gave its users access to “the full Internet,” a statement that highlighted how poorly other mobile phones rendered web pages. This was a major advance  but there were a couple of things that were not included: in order to ensure that the browser ran quickly and reliably on the lower-CPU phones, Apple made a technical decision to remove Java and plugin support from its browser. For the most part, that was OK but many people started complaining that Flash was not included because a large amount of internet video was delivered using the flash player. Apple said, at the time, that its partnership with YouTube should offer with enough video content and that the other groups were pretty much fringe.

Over the years, the discussion continued in tech circles and Adobe, now owners of Flash, decided to reposition it as a tool that would allow for creating interactive content that could run on any platform. It was widely known in development circles that Adobe was working on a version of Flash that would help developers create iPhone applications with the Flash development tools. So Apple upped the stakes by banning its development community from leveraging such tools. Because of the tight control Apple has over what gets on the iPhone and iPad, it essentially killed any chances of using Flash to create programs for those platforms.

As one would expect, Adobe was very unhappy. They had made the ability to create iPhone applications with Flash a key feature of their new offering. So they huffed and puffed enough to get the tech community fired up.

The controversy has now gotten so strong that it got a response from Steve Jobs himself, which resulted in Adobe abandoning their strategy of distribution on Apple devices.

Apple: Standard bearer for openness?

Jobs’ note is interesting in many aspects. On the one hand, he does seem to address many of the issues that have been raised and explain why Apple’s position is the friendly one. On the other, people with enough knowledge of the underlying technologies can see some cracks in the arguments made:

First, there’s “Open”

That Apple would lead with the concept of openness is ironic at its best and deceiving at its worst. While it’s true that Adobe Flash is not open, Apple’s selective list of standards it is supporting reveals some of the politics surrounding web standards. Yes, HTML5 is completely open but the issue of video in HTML5 is a small developer skirmish in which Apple is backing a horse that is not necessarily the most open one.

H.264

It’s interesting that, in the paragraph about openness, Steve Jobs mentions HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript but leaves the issue of video codec for later in his note. That comes in the discussion of “the full web” where he mentions support for H.264.

That name represents a standard that is not an open one. In fact, it’s one that needs to be licensed in order to be used and, while many people use it (as Apple’s note demonstrate), it’s one that could generate royalties for many companies when the agreement to make this standard royalties-free for internet video ends in 2015. And one of the companies that would get some of those royalties is….

(if you haven’t guessed, you must have skimmed throught the rest of the article)

surprise, it’s Apple Inc., a company that happens to own some proprietary intellectual property that is included in this standard.

And, surprisingly, the best tool for authoring content for the H.264 standard is Quicktime, a piece of software that is distributed by… Apple.

I’m not going to deny that the rest of the arguments (around security, performance, and battery life) may hold value. I’m also not going to claim that Jobs is wrong in saying that the “Touch” experience is not fundamentally different from the experience that Flash was initially created for.

But I am going to go out on a limb and say that this whole fight between Apple and Adobe comes down to a single thread: Who will control video on the web. Jobs is probably not thrilled that Flash has usurped Quicktime as the main contender on the web and is working on changing that.

Reasserting closed systems

While the war between Adobe and Apple is an amusing soap opera, the last reason Jobs gives for not supporting Flash ought to be the most chilling to the development community. I could paraphrase but I wouldn’t do it justice so here’s what he said (emphasis is mine):

We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

Our motivation is simple – we want to provide the most advanced and innovative platform to our developers, and we want them to stand directly on the shoulders of this platform and create the best apps the world has ever seen. We want to continually enhance the platform so developers can create even more amazing, powerful, fun and useful applications.

At first read, an innocuous set of statements but one that has potential implications for the future of computing. If the thinking in Cupertino is that third party development tools are bad, then what about the Mac and non-Apple development tools on OSX? Where would those stand. And, while the introduction of new features are great, what happens if Apple decides to remove old ones? That is question left unanswered by this note and one that may leave the door open for more concerns.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched six companies, of which two went public and three were sold. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.

  • Don

    Apple has every right to define its products. Then it becomes the consumer’s responsibility to decide whether or not to purchase them.

    For example, if I make and sell cakes, I have every right to determine both the ingredients and the quality of those ingredients that are used to prepare the cake. The various suppliers/developers of possible ingredients have no say in the matter. It’s a cake of my designing, and I determine what is allowed according to my standards of quality control, etc.

    If consumers don’t like my cakes, they can buy other cakes. If suppliers want to participate, they are only useful to me if they provide the ingredients I require. By any measure of performance, this is not a problem. It is perfectly reasonable.

    Personally, as a consumer I trust Apple to make good cakes because they have proven time and time again that one of their primary objectives is an excellent end-user experience. Adobe, on the other hand, is not interested in my experience at all. They and other development-tool providers are only interested in selling more on more copies of their tools to developers.

    In my opinion, Apple is doing the right thing. Bravo!

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Don,

      The challenge is not for the consumer but for the developers. I agree with you that Apple as the right to define its product. What I highlight in the post are 2 things:

      1. Some of the arguments that are made to support the product definition are not based on reality.
      2. Developers then have to choose whether to support that vision or not.

      Do you think Apple has the right to lie because it builds nice product? If so, you fall on the side of the pro-China view (anything Apple does is fine because it’s a big market). That’s exactly my point..

  • http://rhftech.com/blog/ Richard

    Someday, perhaps in two or three years, Apple will require websites/webpages to be approved by their censors before they will allow them to display on Apple devices. It is coming, only question is when it will arrive.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      I disagree about it being that close (the event horizon I’m looking at for such event is probably more on the decades range) but it’s a very real possibility. Apple fans will then claim that Apple is correct in deciding what goes on their devices while opponents will complain about the lack of openness (not that different a discussion than the one around today’s apps :) )

  • Don

    The thesis of this article seems to be that Apple is too big a company to be allowed to define its own products. How ridiculous!

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Could you point to where I’m saying that Apple is not allowed to define its own product? What I point to is that while Apple can decide to do whatever it wants with its platform, developers may or may not agree with the direction and are presented with a tough challenge: Support the increasingly closed system and get access to Apple customer or take a stand against closed system and loose out on the financial opportunities presented by access to iPhone users. That’s the thesis.

      The second part of the post (which, I’m now thinking, I should have separated out into a different post) is that Apple’s interest in the death of Flash has more to do with the potential revenue Apple could get from an H.264 win than with anything else.

  • Don

    It does not matter what the basis (moral or otherwise) of Apple’s decisions might be. Apple can lie to itself or to anyone else for that matter regarding why it insists on using certain ingredients rather than others. It’s Apple’s product, and this is entirely up to them. If as a result, the developers choose not to work with them, that is just fine. The developers can work somewhere else, and/or Apple can choose to modify its criteria if the loss of developers/suppliers is so great that consumers don’t like the product (i.e., the cake becomes unacceptable to the consumer). That’s how business works! What’s the problem?

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Don,

      A quick question on that view (taking Apple of the equation for a second). If Microsoft took the same position when it comes to Windows or Office, would that be acceptable?

      Another question: if a government (let’s say China) took decisions that are not in line with your own viewpoints (let’s say an American one) but had a large marketplace, which decision would you make: take a moral stance or do business with that government? For Google, the decision was to take a moral stance. For others (eg. Microsoft), it was to look the other way and get access to the marketplace. My view is that Apple developers are confronted with the same choice: take a moral stance (for technology openness) and loose out on revenue or look the other way and profit from the Apple eco-system.

  • Al

    If Apple is China, wouldn’t that make Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft China as well? Their gaming consoles are computers that are also closed environments. Apple’s mobile OS is closed and controlled for security purposes as well as quality control purposes. Same goes for Nintendo, PS3 and XBox 360.

    Adobe still doesn’t have a Flash player that works properly on a mobile OS. Same goes for the Flash player for Mac OS X and OS X has been out for 10 years! I think Adobe has some blame in this discussion.

    As for porting Flash Apps to iPhone OS, they wouldn’t take advantage of the unique features available in iPhone OS. They would be built around features found in all mobile OSs. They would be mediocre at best. The last thing the 200,000 app strong Apple App Store needs is more mediocre.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Al,

      Three points here: 1. The gaming boxes / 2. Adobe and Flash / 3. Unique features of the iPhone

      Let me address them separately:

      1. The gaming boxes are indeed presenting the same type of thinking as Apple’s mobile space so no disagreement from me here. They’ve been that way for years so they could be seen as “old china” :) My argument is only that Apple is the latest to close things up. I never argued that the others are not open.

      2. Agree that Adobe has a player that doesn’t work on ANY mobile OS. So this part of the argument is valid. However, the argument that the flash player doesn’t work properly on OSX is one that confuses me: As a longtime mac user (since before OSX), I’ve never had issues with the flash player. It seems to have worked OK on my ibooks, powerbooks, macbooks, and macbook pros through a succession of OSX versions (well, maybe things were not working that well on OSX 10.0 but then again, not much was working that well on OSX 10.0 :) ). That said, I agree with you that Adobe has some blame in this discussion and nowhere in my post do I say that it is blameless. Does that mean that Apple should get a free pass?

      3. A GPS, a compass, internet access, a camera, and mp3 readers are features available in all mobiles OSs today. So I’m assuming, based on your thinking, that applications that leverages or combines those are mediocre. If we were to look at the 200,000 apps in the App Store, what percentage actually leverage features that are UNIQUE to the iPhone TODAY. My suspicion (based on experience with my own iPhone) is that the number would actually be fairly small.

  • DaveMTL

    You keep ignoring the analogy to game consoles which is a vastly bigger market than tablets. Do you honestly believe Apple would have 80-90% of the tablet market or even the phone market?
    What makes “China’ China is the fact that you cannot find ANY alternative operating in China which does NOT follow chinese rules. Don’t like that, then exit China. The Chinese will decide when they want different.
    Sorry but it seems like you have grossly overestimated Apple’s potential market size. Like BMW and Mercedes, Apple will have a limited portion of the overall market. One which attracts those who wish a great user experience with both the product and the stores.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      DaveMTL,

      Apple actually has an oversized influence compared to its market share. Where Apple goes, generally, the rest of the technology industry follows. So while it’s true that its market share is small (though it is getting larger, something that Apple product fans like myself are pretty thrilled about), its thought leadership impact is great. So, much like you say “cannot find ANY alternative operating in China which does NOT follow chinese rules”, I would argue that in the computer industry, it is increasingly difficult to find any alternative operating in the industry which does not follow Apple’s mindset.

  • Don

    Tristan,

    Let me answer your quick question first (i.e., “If Microsoft took the same position when it comes to Windows or Office, would that be acceptable?”). If Microsoft said that only certain tools could be used to develop for its Windows platform, yes, that would be acceptable as long as the tools are not solely supplied by Microsoft.

    Using the cake analogy once again, let’s say Apple or Microsoft makes cakes and sells them to consumers. These companies exercise their right to define exactly what their respective cakes should be. Apple (or Microsoft) receives ingredients such as salt, sugar, and flour from a variety of suppliers/developers. Now let’s say the company, whichever it is, makes the decision that only unbleached flour must be used in their cakes. There is nothing sinister, evil, or immoral about that. Those developers who can only supply bleached flour are out of luck with the company. They have the option of supplying other companies that don’t care about what kind of flour is used. Others may decide to supply both unbleached flour and bleached flour, and thereby continue to benefit from doing business with that company and other companies as well.

    The fact of the matter is that Apple/Microsoft has no legal or moral responsibility to explain to the supplier/developer WHY it is choosing certain ingredients instead of others. The supplier/developer has no right to know why.

    Regarding your second question, if I were a developer who was more in favor of a totally open technological ecosystem (whether or not such a thing can exist in reality) than a partially closed ecosystem such as Apple’s, I would let the market decide over time which of these models is actually best from a consumer standpoint. Yes, I would say, “Let the consumers have access to both types and see which is preferred.” As a result, my final decision would be to develop for both if at all possible. In other words, I would simply supply both types of flour if I could. If not, I would go with my preferred type of ecosystem.

    (As a matter of fact, personally, I have no preference regarding closed vs open technological ecosystems. However, I tend to live in gated communities when possible, and I continue to find them much more enjoyable and satisfying than non-gated neighborhoods and housing communities. So I happen to think Apple may have chosen wisely.)

    Those questions aside, it’s important to remember that Apple is not violating any human rights, and there is nothing immoral about their business model.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Don,

      First of all, thanks for continuing the dialogue on this. Much appreciated.

      I do need some points of clarifications, though:

      Let me answer your quick question first (i.e., “If Microsoft took the same position when it comes to Windows or Office, would that be acceptable?”). If Microsoft said that only certain tools could be used to develop for its Windows platform, yes, that would be acceptable as long as the tools are not solely supplied by Microsoft.

      So does that mean that Apple’s position would be acceptable as long as the tools to author application for Apple devices were not solely supplied by Apple. Does that mean that you are for Apple allowing other companies to create development tools for the iPhone and iPad and that moves by Apple to block such tools would not be acceptable? If so, our position are not different. My concern is around Apple being the sole supplier and not allowing others to supply. It’s a closed system and that’s what worries me.

      On the cake analogy, I would go one further and ask you if that’s OK. Let’s say that them company were to say that you can only used the unbleached flour sold by that company. Would it still be acceptable then? And let’s take it just one degree further, which is that the company would then decide which developer gets to the limited supply of unbleached flour? Would that be acceptable then?

      I agree the company has no legal responsibility to explain itself. However, when it comes to the moral part, I’m not so sure. When Microsoft took the same approach in the 1990s (certifying which devices could receive an interoperability label with Windows) its behavior was called monopolistic and predatory. Now that Apple is doing, why is it OK?

      Regarding your reply to my second question, I think we’re in full agreement as to the developer question and that’s where I’m drawing the China analogy: IF you are for open systems, do you develop for the Apple platform in spite of its position regarding that or do you look the other way and get access to the riches that are represented by Apple consumers? In an ideal world, a developer could develop for both platform and say “let the market decide” but, for most developers, limited resources must be pointed to one platform or another. I would also argue that the consumer and developer markets are two different ones and the consumer market has always opted for more closed (ie. secure) systems while the developer market has tended to vote for more open ones. And that’s the friction I’m trying to highlight.

      (I will state my preference as being for more openness, although I see the value of certain closed systems at time. Unlike you, I prefer cities (ie. more like housing communities) to suburban gated communities. In my view, Apple chose wisely when it comes to consumers but I’m not so sure when it comes to developers.)

      Fully agree that there are bigger things than Apple and that the company does not violate human rights (and as far as morality, I think it is a non-matter as business models are not created to be moral or immoral). The question I keep returning to, however, is when it comes to my own morality as a developer: by supporting a system that is increasingly closed (and could erase some of the progress being made by the Internet in terms of openness), would I, as a developer support a stance that could, in the long run, violate some human rights. It’s less about Apple than about the trend. If your moral compass is towards more closed being OK, then the next question becomes “is the regulation of a closed platform (let’s say through censorship) OK?” My position is that the latter is not and so the former probably isn’t either.

  • Don

    Tristan,

    You wrote: “My concern is around Apple being the sole supplier and not allowing others to supply. It’s a closed system and that’s what worries me.”

    Apple is not the sole supplier of the tools it requires for development. As far as I understand it, at least three C languages are allowed (not just Objective C) and Apple does not control them although it has a clear preference regarding Objective C. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    You also wrote “Let’s say that the company were to say that you can only used the unbleached flour sold by that company. Would it still be acceptable then?”

    Think of the unbleached flour as one of the C languages that Apple does NOT control (at least two), and you have your answer. Perfectly acceptable. Regarding access to the limited supply that you mention, there is actually an unlimited supply when it comes to the programming languages that Apple has specified. So developers have choice, and it is not controlled by Apple.

    You also wrote: “I agree the company has no legal responsibility to explain itself. However, when it comes to the moral part, I’m not so sure. When Microsoft took the same approach in the 1990s (certifying which devices could receive an interoperability label with Windows) its behavior was called monopolistic and predatory.”

    It has nothing to do with morality. Microsoft was not charged or convicted on the basis of morality or lack of it. It was simply a question of whether or not it was abusing its monopoly position, regarding which there are clear business-related criteria. You cannot claim that Apple is doing the same thing unless you can demonstrate exactly how it is abusing its monopoly position. Please explain.

    You also wrote: “Unlike you, I prefer cities (ie. more like housing communities) to suburban gated communities.”

    Some parts of cities are gated communities in effect. Beverly Hills, where I lived for several years, and which is in the heart of the city of Los Angeles, had no literal gates. Yet the services provided for Beverly Hills made it a gated community in effect.

    You also wrote: “The question I keep returning to, however, is when it comes to my own morality as a developer: by supporting a system that is increasingly closed (and could erase some of the progress being made by the Internet in terms of openness), would I, as a developer support a stance that could, in the long run, violate some human rights.”

    This situation (violation of human rights) does not exist, and if one looks at Apple’s record, there is absolutely no reason to believe that they would be interested in violating human rights or reducing the openness of the internet. They have clearly worked for open standards on the internet. Web-based apps were the first apps promoted by Apple for “i” devices. They have also clearly said that they are not in favor of any closed, proprietary technology being used as a building block on the web. So, in fact, they are not fostering any trend that would favor closing the internet or closing any open options that you have as a consumer. They’ve simply decided that THEIR cake is going to be made according to their guidelines until consumers vote with their pocketbooks and say that they prefer something else. In my opinion, interpreting Apple’s behavior as some march towards violation of human rights is clearly an attempt to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) since that interpretation is not based on evidence.

    It seems to me that, apart from the Mac, Apple is making appliances. Think of it as a washing machine of a particular brand. It’s not so difficult to understand when you think of it in those terms. The manufacturer is guaranteeing a certain level of quality and performance for the whole product by controlling the components.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      As far as I understand it, at least three C languages are allowed (not just Objective C) and Apple does not control them although it has a clear preference regarding Objective C. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

      My understanding was that Objective C was the only flavor allowed. I didn’t realize that others were. If that’s the case, my worries are lessened, to some extent. However, doesn’t everything need to run through Xcode eventually so it compiles to the iPhone OS? or are there other compilers out there that are allowed to compile iPhone code?

      You cannot claim that Apple is doing the same thing unless you can demonstrate exactly how it is abusing its monopoly position. Please explain.

      Here, I would argue that the many incidents surrounding the App Store and its approval process when it comes to application using undocumented iPhone APIs do represent some level of abuse its terms of its monopoly position. But having thought further about it, I can no longer argue that position since it is based on the assumption that Apple is the dominant player in the mobile space, something that isn’t true yet. So you do have a point that there is currently no monopolistic behavior from Apple at this time.

      They have clearly worked for open standards on the internet. Web-based apps were the first apps promoted by Apple for “i” devices. They have also clearly said that they are not in favor of any closed, proprietary technology being used as a building block on the web. So, in fact, they are not fostering any trend that would favor closing the internet or closing any open options that you have as a consumer.

      A purist could argue that their support for H.264 over Ogg Theora or VP8 means that Apple is not really for open standards on the net (or only partially so). But since Microsoft is taking the same stance, one can assume that such openness is only the domain of purist. I do think, however, as others do, that the lever of control Apple is exerting on its own platforms represents a slippery slope towards a more closed Internet. Not today, and not in the next couple of years, but on a longer time horizon.

      It seems to me that, apart from the Mac, Apple is making appliances. Think of it as a washing machine of a particular brand. It’s not so difficult to understand when you think of it in those terms. The manufacturer is guaranteeing a certain level of quality and performance for the whole product by controlling the components.

      I think this is where I have the most difficulties. This is a manifestation of Apple as a consumer electronics company and I’m still looking at it as Apple, the computer software and hardware company. It’s true that seen through this lens, Apple’s behavior is correct.

  • Don

    Tristan,

    Just a quick correction:

    I wrote: “Think of the unbleached flour as one of the C languages that Apple does NOT control (at least two), and you have your answer. Perfectly acceptable.”

    What I meant to say was that it would be perfectly acceptable for Apple to require use of those languages since it is not the source of those languages and neither does it control them.

  • Don

    Tristan,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    I am not a developer, so it is quite helpful for me to hear things from that different point of view. On the other hand, I have been watching Apple as a consumer since 1984 when I purchased my first Mac and, soon after, came to the realization that if I had just started college a few years later than in 1974, I would probably have chosen a computer technology-related career. Oh, well.

    My point is that I have a fairly good sense from watching things over the years that, with Steve Jobs at the helm, you can be sure that Apple will always have as one of its main objectives the goal of making excellent products that are exciting, enjoyable, and inspiring for the end user. I am not naive enough to think that there aren’t a host of other considerations at play, not the least of which is the potential for profit. Apple thrives on competition, but they also want points of differentiation. They will charge a premium for that differentiation. This means that what they produce will never be the least expensive; it will always tend to the opposite extreme. And so they really can’t expect to keep a huge market share for any extended period of time. At the same time, however, they will need to keep the respect and loyalty of their consumer base. I cannot imagine them thinking that they can afford to risk losing that consumer loyalty and respect by being a force for making the internet less open and more restrictive. Call him what you like (megalomaniac, whatever), you can be absolutely sure that Steve Jobs does not want to be remembered as the one who shuttered the internet!

    As Apple shifts more and more into its new consumer electronics mode, I am hoping to see some real competition. Hopefully there will be systems of varying degrees of openness competing against one another. Then the likelihood that a single company’s model will dictate the future will be lessened, and developers will be able to feel more comfortable.

    (By the way, I still have my 1984 Mac, and it still works.)

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Don,

      While I fully agree with you about Apple working on developing products that are best of breed for consumers, the company also has a long history of abusing developers and/or third party partners. Since you go way back in terms of Apple usage (and, yes, I am jealous of your still working 1984 mac as my mac SE finally died last year :) ), you will remember how, when Steve Jobs returned, Apple moved from allowing third party hardware makers to use its OS to being the sole provider of both software and hardware its OS ran on. You will also remember how the move to OSX surprised many and how the sudden drop of the OS 9 interpreter in OSX 10.4 also came as a surprise to many. By comparison, I recently found a piece of Windows 3.1 software on a diskette and, for kicks, decided to try it out on Windows Vista and it still ran.

      Apple’s view is that in order to move forward, it needs to break with the past and, as a result, it generally does so by imposing its own rules on its development community. But, since the introduction of the iPhone, they’ve actually gotten rougher and rougher with their developers. Sadly, Apple is now seeing itself as a consumer electronics company instead of a computer one (for the most recent manifestation of such belief, it appears the next Apple Developer Conference has little on its slate for OSX developers and is mostly focused on being and iPhone and iPad development conference).

      As Apple shifts more to the consumer electronics space, it may also signal to the rest of the PC industry that it needs to move in that direction and the end result of this could be that computers, which have to date been a great democratizing force in terms of providing both creation and consumption tools for the same price, could become a small, more rarefied domain, leading future generations to thinking that only governments and corporations can create. And that, to me, would be a very sad thing.

  • AdamC

    Everything should be open and free and so should the CS5 suite be, wonder why is Adobe selling it for top dollars.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      AdamC,

      I disagree with you about everything needing to be free. Value is created by any product and thus value should be assigned to them. That works for any company (Apple and Adobe included in those cases)…

  • Don

    Tristan,

    I do understand your concerns. Things have definitely been rough for developers, but I think there is more reason for hope than for fear.

    While it is in Apple’s DNA to be innovative and disruptive, enabling products with enough differentiation to support charging a premium, Apple is first and foremost a business. If I remember correctly, Apple was in dire straits—perhaps even at death’s door—when the decisions that led to the OS licensing debacle were made (both at the front end and at the back end of the “experiment”). From their point of view at least, ensuring survival of the company trumped everything else. The commercial environment for Apple is very different now, and it is very unlikely that we will see such desperate moves and their consequences being repeated.

    However, the fact that Apple is a business first and an innovator second means that there is little or no chance that they will abandon the creative professionals who rely on computers. It makes absolutely no sense for them to abandon Mac OS X on desktop computers because that is still a large proportion of their business. I think that they will be forced to continue innovating in that space, perhaps incorporating some of the advancements that we are seeing in the iPad. But since it is their preference not to be a commodity-level player, that space will continue to be dominated by computer manufacturers who produce less expensive products. (Although higher, Apple’s prices will have to be somewhat competitive, helping to keep their equipment accessible to professional and more casual consumers alike.)

    In my opinion, what we’re seeing as an apparent de-emphasis of OS X on Macs is Apple enduring significant labor pains in its birthing process of iPad-related changes that will affect its desktop computers. When something new is being created, there is always disruption, and the more complete the creation, the more disruption there is. The tennis player who changes his/her long-used serving technique by modifying his/her grip has to endure initial regressive changes that disrupt his/her game and also adversely affect all the people associated, be it coaches, practice partners, or fans. Apple endured severe labor pains in going from OS 9 to OS X, and its partners/developers suffered along with it (perhaps somewhat more than a spouse standing by through a delivery), but that was the price of a better future for the entire family.

    I think that Apple will supply both appliances and the regular desktop-type computers that are used mainly for productivity. Even if other manufacturers in the PC industry follow Apple into the consumer electronics space, they would be foolish to put aside their commercial interests in the computer-for-productivity space. On the other hand, if Apple succeeds in merging consumption and productivity on iPad-like devices and some of those devices serve to replace machines in that latter space, it would not necessarily be a bad thing. Here again, because of its tendency to favor differentiating innovations in support of higher prices, Apple is not likely be a commodity-level player, instead leaving the lower end (and larger market share) for those who make less expensive devices. This should be good for both developers and consumers.

    In any case, it’s probably much better for the PC industry to struggle with the presence of an innovative, disruptive force such as Apple than to wallow in the status-quo that would exist otherwise.

    (Too bad about your Mac SE…. I booted up my 1984 Mac a few weeks ago for a curious cable-installation technician and had a painful reminder of what it was like to be constantly switching floppy discs!)

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Don,

      Where you and I differ is on the long term prospects. You say:

      However, the fact that Apple is a business first and an innovator second means that there is little or no chance that they will abandon the creative professionals who rely on computers. It makes absolutely no sense for them to abandon Mac OS X on desktop computers because that is still a large proportion of their business.

      Where I differ is that, over the short run, it’s run that it would make little sense but over a longer time horizon, one has to consider that OSX and the computer line are representing a lower and lower portion of overall revenue. So one could assume that there is a number (probably under 5%) where it falls off. De-investment in the OSX platform already seems to have started (once again, I’ll point the the Apple developer conference’s focus on iPad and iPhone instead of OSX as an example of that de-emphasis).

      The impact of Apple as a disruptor is another important factor here. At the end of the day, I don’t care if it’s Apple or someone else doing the disruption but what I care about is the nature of the disruption: in this case, it’s a disruption that tries to displace the personal computer, which allows its users to create as well as consume, with a device that is primarily focused on consumption. THIS is the disruption that I don’t like. As a culture and as a society, such a disruption is a return to older models of creation and consumption and I’m not convinced they were better models.

      If played out to a longer vision, one could see the computers staying into the office but disappearing from homes, replaced by consumption-mainly types of devices like the iPad. So teenagers who may be the next software programmers, photographers, musicians, movie-makers, or writers may no longer have access to the tools of creation for such crafts as the Apple view appears to be that such crafts ought to stay in the hands of professionals.

  • Carsten

    Wait so first apple is china, then they lie… And next they rape little kids. Like adobe apple makes business decisions that are in their and their users’ best interest. So far apple has been doing quite well on this apple is happy, users are happy (just look at sales numbers), and developers are happy too (with exception of tiny percentage that has problems). They are not in the business of making you happy they have larger audience they care about. Same goes for adobe. Have they much cared about flash and flash mobile much over the last years? No. Just with iPhone have they woken up and now suddenly demand road toll for a road they didn’t build. So if adobe would have a good product end users would care and so would apple but flash is just not that good or important. And so apple has every right not to care.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Carsten,

      The main part of your argument I disagree with is the following:

      Like adobe apple makes business decisions that are in their and their users’ best interest.

      My view is that “Like adobe apple makes business decisions that are in their and their company’s best interest.” Users really don’t factor in either for Apple or Adobe in this fight.

      Let’s be clear, I never said that Adobe was a nice and clean company in this fight: all I said was that Apple left developers with a tough challenge: “do I support Apple’s philosophy that closed systems are better for all in the long run or do I loose out on some financial opportunity by taking a moral stance?”

      The next issue is the one regarding claims of openness. I don’t think either company has a right to claim openness here.

      So whether you support Adobe or Apple on their respective positions on Flash matters little to this decision.

  • Jim H

    If I wanted to go to a stupid, overwrought metaphor store, I know where I’d buy my stock. Apple is not “closed” in any meaningful way. It it fully cooperative, it publishes their APIs. The parts that connect with other systems are compatible and/or open. Now, the new platforms have more limited options. So what? Because Android is open source, what does that mean? Google spent millions on that. Does that make them “open”? Just try and get the source code for any of their bread and butter. You have to be the Chinese government to look inside there.

    If you’re saying Apple is not Linux, that’s true. Neither is any other OS that makes money. Linux may take over the field if desktops and laptops ever become completely outmoded. Not before then. Android is open because it’s part of a business strategy by a rapacious company that makes its money on the back end, through advertising. No other reason.

    OS X is open to almost all the programming languages out there, and Flash too. But that’s a desktop. The mobile handhelds work best with Objective C, says Jobs. Don’t think so? We’ll see.

    Jobs might be wrong. There might be a flight away from the controlled environment of the iPhone and the centralized marketplace and Apple’s $99 developer fee. I don’t frankly think he is, but he’s placed his bets. I was just in an Apple store this afternoon, and people were three deep trying to use the iPads. Speed and an instinctive interface were the key. I didn’t hear anybody saying, “But it’s not open!”

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Jim,

      You claim that Apple publishes their APIs. So when developers are denied approval for inclusion in the App store because they used undocumented APIs, is the issue that the developer used an API that was published and documented by Apple and therefore should be approved for inclusion in the store or is the issue that Apple has some undocumented APIs they don’t publish and the developer’s app should be denied inclusion in the store? You can’t have it both ways.

      Secondly, I’m not looking for Apple to be Linux (on the other hand, it seems your contention that OS not making money doesn’t seem to work when it comes to RedHat), what I’m looking for is for it not to claim to be be open when the reality is that it isn’t.

  • Dave

    The trend I am seeing in comments on Apple vs Adobe articles is that a large percentage of the apple apologists have only a surface level non-technical understanding of the issue (see comment #26, Carsten for an example). Their motto is “In Steve we Trust” and they don’t really understand the implications of allowing 1 company such control over the direction of the web. If you try to explain it to them in a clear and simple way as this article does, they blindly defend.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Dave,

      It seems the trend is the same for most Apple-related article ;)

  • Jerome

    Allowing Flash on the iPx platform would be commercial suicide for Apple’s AppStore. Same goes for allowing other browser plugins like Java, Silvelight and Unity3D. So beyond video, it’s moslty a protectionist business decision. I am fine with that, just admit it and move on. You don’t need to bash Flash.

    Flash is a great platform to develop for. It delivers content to hundreds of million of internet users everyday. Somethin Apple can’t even dream of. For years Flash Lite has been on mobile phones. Flash 10.1 and AIR 2.0 are Adobe’s offering for the new mobile and desktop markets, a unified player.

    “Flash is not that good” based on what? Flash has enabled innovation, creativity and amazing interactive experiences online for 10 years now.

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      Jerome,

      I agree with you that it would probably hurt Apple’s level of control to allow Flash (or Silverlight or Java) on their devices. And I fully agree with you that they should just admit the commercial impact instead of trying to wrap it into some FUD.

      To be honest, though, I’m not convinced that Flash has a lot of a future. I believe it was an important transitional technology (and will continue to be so for the next few years) but, in the long run, I suspect that HTML5 will supersede Flash as the approach to code for interactivity and I suspect that H.264 will probably become the de-facto standard for video on the net (due to its support from Apple and Microsoft).

      A quick question: On what phones are Flash 10.1 and AIR 2.0 available?

  • BigRed

    Tristan,

    While i don’t approve of outright lying, that does seem to be where the media, marketing, and press announcements have devolved. Apple has every right to place restrictions on solutions developed for its platforms. Realistically, developers need to quit crying like babies and decide whether or not they want to support OS X devices. Just like they have to decide whether or not to support Windows, Linux, etc. It’s a business call, not a technology call. There are code generation technologies that can create applications that can work on most platforms. To comply with Apple’s TOS, one must simply select a tool that generates C/C++/Objective-C or Javascript and that uses public APIs. Done.

    The problem is that the industry has dumbed down developers into being unwilling (or worse, unable) to learn a language and a library set. Some of this can be attributed to the fallacy of everything being HTML/CSS/Javascript (web tech) or only needing to be written in a single language (Java/C#). As a long time professional who has had to deal with cross platform issues, my take on the whole Adobe / Apple squabble is that Adobe was unable to make its vision of the “Flash Web” a reality and is willing to resort to any tactic to prevent Flash from fading into obscurity.

    Apple’s perspective is quite clear. “We don’t care about other platforms other than our own.” With that in mind, cross-platform compilation that provides a lowest common denominator approach will always be unsatisfactory. As Jobs notes, introducing a middle layer relegates developers to being subservient to the middle tier provider, although I will note that it is their own laziness that puts them in that position. And honestly, Apple shouldn’t care about other platforms. That’s a business call.

    Repeating the mantra about how unfair it is to developers merely demonstrates that those developers are little more than tool users. Developers generally don’t make business decisions. If a business decides that it needs to be on the iPhone OS platform, it will do what is necessary to get there, i.e., hire new developers if needed. Putting the matter up for debate in the technical community is really a waste of time. If those developers are so unhappy with Apple’s decision they can develop for Android, Symbian, WinMo, etc. What I suspect is really happening is that people are being forced out of their comfort zone and they don’t like that because it means that they have to learn something new.

    But your mileage may vary…

    • http://www.tnl.net/blog/ Tristan Louis

      BigRed,

      I fully agree with your first paragraph here (hence the China comparison: “do what’s right or do what’s financially rewarding?” is the question now to be contemplated by developers). But I disagree with your last one, which seems to contradict how you opened. Developers will develop applications based on a number of factors but market conditions and market size is the kind of factor they have to consider. Under that model, not developing for Apple is a ridiculous concept since it has such a large share of the smartphone market.

      I agree with you that developers at large organizations do not make business decisions but I believe that independent developers and developers working for start-ups have some level of influence on business decisions. And those developers have an understanding of market forces, leaving them to wonder which is the best approach: is Apple’s iDevices market too big to ignore or should one consider Apple’s philosophy and its impact on society and culture?

  • http://www.trustytimeshop.com rolex daytona

    If you’re saying Apple is not Linux, that’s true. Neither is any other OS that makes money. Linux may take over the field if desktops and laptops ever become completely outmoded. Not before then. Android is open because it’s part of a business strategy by a rapacious company that makes its money on the back end, through advertising. No other reason.